Advocate: Mom to speak out about suicide, friar

AUSTINTOWN – A former Warren John F. Kennedy High School employee plans to discuss her son’s suicide and the matter of Brother Stephen Baker at a news conference here today.

“She is coming out now because she wants to reach others who have had the same experiences,” victim advocate Dr. Robert Hoatson said late Sunday about the 11 a.m. event at the Fairfield Inn on state Route 46. “She has not decided whether she will file suit. She may announce her intention.”

It was not clear when her son took his own life or who may be sued.

Allegations about Baker surfaced in a similar news conference on Jan. 16 in Braceville in which Michael Munno, of Cortland, and an unnamed man announced they had been sexually abused by the Franciscan friar while they were students at JFK in the mid-1980s. It was also announced at that time that the two men were among nine others who had reached a financial settlement with the Youngstown diocese and the Third Order Regular Franciscans over the allegations.

The terms of the settlement have not been released, except that each of the 11 men received “high five figure” payouts. No criminal charges were filed against Baker in Ohio and the statute of limitations has run out.

In addition to local allegations, Baker is accused of abusing students while he was working at Bishop McCort Catholic High School in Pennsylvania in the 1990s.

Baker committed suicide Jan. 26 at St. Bernardine Monastery in Hollidaysburg, Pa., where he had been living. In a letter found in his room at the monastery, Baker apologized to the church.

Attorneys representing some of the victims have said that dozens of Baker’s former students have come forward, including many after his suicide, claiming he sexually abused them. The Youngstown diocese has said that it wants to make sure victims receive all necessary help and wants to take steps to keep any such thing from happening again.

Bishop McCort has hired a Pittsburgh law firm to conduct an internal investigation of the alleged abuse. Blair County, Pa., attorney Richard Serbin is representing 13 former Bishop McCort students.

While criminal charges cannot be filed in Ohio, the Youngstown diocese confirmed last week it has been notified of a potential civil lawsuit on behalf of people who say they were abused by the friar.

Nancy L. Yuhasz, chancellor, said the matter has been turned over to the attorney representing the local diocese.

“There’s really not a lot to say at this point,” she said at the time. “There’s nothing to comment on at this point. It’s basically letting us know there could be a lawsuit.”

The Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, the TOR Franciscans and Bishop McCort were to be served with similar notices.

Hoatson is head of New Jersey-based Road to Recovery, a group that specializes in clergy abuse cases.